EAGLE MOUNTAIN — Residents filled City Hall to capacity Wednesday to express their displeasure over recent utility bills, complaining that city officials are using stealth tactics to increase their tax burden.
Revenue from utilities in Eagle Mountain has risen nearly 65 percent since 2008. The rise in costs has prompted protest from several residents who say the high fees are specifically designed to raise revenues without a vote of approval from residents.
They're accusing city officials of using the rate increases as a way to get around having to raise property taxes, which is a much more public process.
“I’m just a little flabbergasted as to where all this money is going and why it's going there,” resident Robert Allen Schermerhorn said during a town hall meeting.
But city leaders claim revenue from utilities is higher than normal because of other circumstances, including a record cold winter, rapid population growth and a billing period of five weeks rather than four for some residents. They said the basic usage rates have remained the same.
City administrator Ifo Pili did acknowledge that utility revenues make up 24 percent of the city's general fund, a larger portion than the city's sales tax and almost twice that of residents' property tax.
“Without this source (of revenue), we would have to double or even triple those taxes,” Pili said. “We decided we would transfer funds from utility fees so we wouldn’t have to do that.”
But Pili also maintained the decision is well within the rights of the city leadership.
“There’s disagreement on whether we should do that, but it’s legal," he said. "It’s legal, and it’s done in every city in Utah (that provides power to its residents).”
Resident Marshall Overcast told the City Council he can accept that there will be fluctuations in his utility bill, but that he’s looking for more accountability when it rises. He said he doesn’t think it’s appropriate not to include the city’s rates on the residents’ utility bills.
“I’m looking for transparency on this,” Overcast said. “I’m looking for a website I can go to and find information on my bill. … I’m not looking for that today, but as a long-term strategic plan.”
The city provides residents with basic utility services such as gas, electricity and water services. City officials say Eagle Mountain is required to charge a higher than usual rate because corporations such as Rocky Mountain Power refuse to contract with the city due to concerns about profitability.
“Rates are high, and they have been high,” Pili acknowledged.
But he also said the average utility costs were higher in nearby cities such as Saratoga Springs, Pleasant Grove, American Fork and Cedar hills.
Dozens of residents outside City Hall waited their turn to view the proceedings because the building was filled to its fire code capacity.